Fresh from the spotlight as host of the 2014 James Beard Award Semifinalist announcement, Orlando chefs and restaurateurs continue to up their games, opening new restaurants, welcoming new chefs, enhancing craft beer and wine selections and expanding spaces to meet the demands of locals and more than 59 million visitors who expect high quality and diverse dining options as part of their Orlando vacation experience. From homegrown spots like Txokos Basque Kitchen helmed by a James Beard nominee to outposts of nationally-established fine dining establishments like Eddie V’s Prime Seafood, Orlando’s dining scene continues to evolve.
Some of the new and noteworthy openings and expansions include:
Artisan’s Table – Located in downtown Orlando, Artisan’s Table is the first restaurant for Scott Copeland, one of Orlando’s rising young chefs, who honed his craft previously at K Restaurant under James Beard nominee chef/owner Kevin Fonzo. Artisan’s Table serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, offering creative twists on traditional fare like the Japanese Breakfast Bowl, made of eggs, Japanese sticky rice, scallions, bacon, sweet chili sauce and togarashi.
Bistro CloCLo –Joining Orlando’s Restaurant Row area, Bistro CloClo offers modern, high-end “bistronomique” style fare from consulting chef Julien Boucheau that takes guests on a culinary tour of France’s best flavors and most iconic dishes. The bistro’s motto is “live for great food, unique wines and good company.” The cozy dining room also has an outdoor patio and features a collection of French artwork.
The COOP – Classic Southern foods with a dash of panache define The COOP, a brand new counter-service restaurant by John Rivers, owner of the homegrown 4 Rivers Smokehouse restaurants. Signature dishes include chicken n’ waffle and low country shrimp and grits with artisanal pies for dessert. Since opening in March, lines of hungry diners have consistently circled around the restaurant.
Eddie V’s Prime Seafood – Fresh seafood takes on a contemporary twist at this new outpost of the popular national surf ‘n’ turf eatery. Located on Orlando’s Restaurant Row, an area with more than two dozen restaurants, the dining room is polished, the patio has sweeping lake views and the busy lounge features live jazz seven nights a week.
Hamilton’s Kitchen – Locally sourced ingredients are transformed into fresh, light and flavorful dishes inside the signature restaurant of the new boutique Alfond Inn hotel in posh Winter Park, just north of downtown Orlando. A native of Germany, Chef Mark Kusche recently joined the Alfond Inn following a long tenure as Executive Chef for several Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, as well as other luxury properties. Most recently he served as Executive Chef at Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara, in Carlsbad, California.
Kasa –A modern restaurant with a global approach to small plate dishes and entrees, Kasa is the newest addition to downtown Orlando’s burgeoning dining scene. Kasa, which comes from “casa,” the Spanish word for home and “omakase,” the Japanese word that symbolizes “from the chef’s heart,” is an expression of Executive Chef Sean Kaplan’s passion and love for his craft. In addition to tapas, Kasa features a raw bar.
Santiago’s Bodega – Small plates from around the world, along with hand-crafted cocktails and an ultra-relaxed vibe, have made this newcomer a quick hit. Located in Ivanhoe Village, the up-and-coming arts and cultural area near downtown Orlando, this tapas style restaurant is modeled after the owners’ popular Key West restaurant.
Scratch – Located in Winter Park, Scratch serves modern American tapas, emphasizing fresh, local and seasonal ingredients; in a tiny, yet inviting space that has a shabby chic, eclectic ambience. It pairs its plates with craft beers, microbrews and a discerning wine list.
The Smiling Bison – Called “a dandy diamond in the rough,” by Orlando Sentinel restaurant critic Heather McPherson, the Smiling Bison is casual and comfortable with a craft-beer menu and an inventive, seasonally inspired menu. Chef Josh Oakley, a veteran of local foodie favorite Ravenous Pig, creates house-made charcuterie, the signature smiling bison burger and creative options like duck pizza, pork cheek tamale, braised baby octopus and bison meatballs that challenges the perception of casual dining.
Txokos Basque Kitchen – James Beard award-nominated chef, Henry Salgado, has taken residence at the East End Market, Orlando’s new community marketplace and the first of its kind in the Southeast. His new restaurant, Txokos, specializes in cuisine from the Basque region and centers around fish, cured meats, and a weekday Pintxos (tapas) Happy Hour.
Yard House – More than 100 beers, creative American fare, classic rock music and artwork by Jerome Gastaldi set a contemporary-California tone at Yard House, recently opened on Orlando’s International Drive.
Four Seasons – When the first Four Seasons in Orlando opens in August, guests will be treated to four restaurants ranging from an upscale steakhouse to a poolside smokehouse. One of the dining highlights will be Capa, a rooftop steakhouse named for a matador’s red cape. Opening in September 2014, Capa will have a Spanish-influence, feature high-end service and breath-taking views of nightly firework celebrations at the area’s theme parks.
Grande Lakes Orlando – The Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott Orlando will launch multi-phase renovations that will see the debut of Highball & Harvest at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando in July 2014 and Whisper Creek Kitchen at JW Marriott Orlando in fall 2014. Highball & Harvest, replacing The Vineyard Grill casual dining restaurant, will feature a Southern-inspired and locally-sourced menu, craft cocktails, and a design inspired by the railroad system that made Florida an agricultural epicenter. Whisper Creek Kitchen will be a brand-new restaurant at JW Marriott Orlando and an extension of the hotel’s Whisper Creek Farm, featuring ingredients from the farm and signature craft beer brewed by Cicerone®-certified Executive Chef Chris Brown of the JW Marriott Orlando.
Mango’s Tropical Café – A large restaurant and club accommodating up to 2,500 with an upbeat Latin American theme will open on International Drive in fall 2014. Vegas-style shows and Michael Jackson tributes will be as essential to the concept as lemonade mojitos and flavored daiquiris.
Mill’s Brew Pub –A new concept from the owners of local favorite Funky Monkey and joining a busting and diverse community of restaurants in the Mills 50 area of Orlando, Mill’s Brew Pub will be an ultra-modern beer pub and eatery that will start pouring pints mid-summer.
Soco – Joining Orlando’s trendy Thornton Park neighborhood in downtown Orlando late summer/early fall 2014 will be Soco, helmed by Greg Ritchie, who has held positions in top restaurants around the South. He was an opening chef/partner for the Roy’s in Orlando and then took over at Emeril’s Tchoup Chop. He spent many of his early professional years in the kitchens of well-known Southern restaurants, including Magnolias in Charleston; the Abbey, Atlanta; the Lark and the Dove, Roswell, Georgia and Atlanta Athletic Club. Soco will be chef-driven menu of traditional Southern dishes with contemporary flourishes.
For more information about Orlando’s restaurants and chefs, visit OrlandoDistricts.com.